Ahmedabad: The Bharatiya Janata Party’s Gujarat headquarters— Kamalam —was quiet on Monday, with little fanfare or fireworks despite the party winning the assembly elections for a record fifth consecutive time.
The BJP, which had won all 26 Lok Sabha seats in Gujarat in the 2014 general elections, missed its 150+ mark by a mile, finishing the day with only seven seats more than the minimum required to form a government—its worst performance in 22 years. The party won 99 seats, down from 115 in 2012, while Congress’s 77 was 16 more than last time.
The biggest shock for the party came in the Saurashtra region, where it lost 13 seats to the Congress due to the Patidar agitation for reservation led by 24-year-old Hardik Patel.
“We are working on a strategy on how to address various issues, especially the Patidar anger. There is hardly much to celebrate as we did not expect this kind of result," said a BJP official who did not wish to be named.
The high-decibel election saw Prime Minister Narendra Modi leading his party’s campaign with a number of BJP chief ministers, Central ministers and BJP chief Amit Shah. But the party’s election strategy, campaigning, cadre force and the much-talked about ‘Gujarat development model’, were all put to the test in this election.
The Congress party, which was facing infighting only about six months ago and finding it hard to get its act together in the state, ended up giving Modi one of the toughest fights of his political career.
“Six months ago when we were looking to field candidates for Gujarat, we were told by many that Congress should forget 2017 and focus instead on 2022 Gujarat elections," said a Congress official who did not wish to be named.
The BJP’s huge victory in Uttar Pradesh made it complacent, he added.
Farm distress, impact of the goods and services tax, demonetisation and joblessness worked against the BJP.
While Modi’s development model was challenged by Congress president Rahul Gandhi, Patidar Anamat Andolan Samiti (PAAS) leader Hardik Patel threw a direct challenge to Modi by drawing large crowds at his rallies. Not only Patidars, his rallies also drew people from other communities.
The BJP’s mantra of ‘Sabka Saath, Sabka Vikas’ has hit a wall in Gujarat, according to political analyst Jai Mrug.
“Congress has managed to communicate to the anti-incumbency constituencies, but it lacked organic leadership and electioneering skills similar to the BJP. If there was to be a more concentrated effort by the Congress then the anger in the youth could have been channelized and turned into winning votes," said Mrug.
While Modi remained the key campaigner for the BJP, the Congress’s narrative was formed by its association with youth leaders including Hardik Patel, Other Backward Classes (OBC) leader Alpesh Thakor and Dalit leader Jignesh Mevani.
All the Congress’s major state level leaders have lost. One of its tallest leaders and national party spokesperson Shaktisinh Gohil lost at Mandvi in Kutch. Others included Arjun Modhvadia, another senior Congressman; Siddharth Patel, a one-time chief minister aspirant and son of former Gujarat chief minister Chimanbhai Patel; and Tushar Chaudhary, son of former Congress chief minister Amarsinh Chaudhary.
On the other hand, allied youth leaders Alpesh Thakor and Jignesh Mevani, who are contesting assembly elections for the first time, won from their respective constituencies, surprising many. Punjabhai Vansh of the Congress won from Una, where Dalit youths were publicly beaten up by self-styled cow protectors last year.
The BJP’s strategy of fielding candidates who had defected from the Congress did not work out well as four out of six defectors lost the elections. They include Ramsinh Parmar, chairman of Amul Dairy, who lost from his traditional Thasra seat and Raghavji Patel who lost from Jamnagar.
The BJP was able to retain most of its state leadership, an indicator that their mass appeal hasn’t been impacted much.
Chief minister Vijay Rupani won from Rajkot (West) against Congressman Indranil Rajyaguru—the richest candidate in the elections.
Despite facing stiff resistance from the Patidar agitation leaders, deputy chief minister Nitin Patel also won from his home turf in Mehsana. Former energy minister Saurabh Patel won from Botad constituency.
The BJP also lost some of its top leaders, including health minister Shankar Chaudhari (Vaav), assembly speaker Ramanlal Vora (Dasada), and Patel strongman Narayan Lallu Patel who lost from Unjha—regarded as the Spice Bowl of Asia.